Mulberry wine

Our mulberry tree is loaded with fruit this year; the branches are groaning and sagging towards the ground (much to the delight of the chooks and ducks). I think the huge crop is due to the tree having access to the chook compost for years while the chook pen was beside it, and also the application of a fair amount of washing water and dirty water from duck watering pots. Whatever the cause of the crop, I am thankful. I spent a half hour picking ripe mulberries and there are still plenty left for the birds, later cooking, eating fresh from the tree in passing and freezing for later. That time under the tree, hearing the birds calling all around me, feeling the gentle breeze on my skin and thinking about what I can make from the riches provided by this tree, were a rare moment of peace and contentment… I am deeply grateful. So, to celebrate, I am making mulberry wine.

First, the mulberries need to be frozen while I collect enough for a large batch of wine. Freezing the fruit before making the wine seems to help in the fermentation process anyway. So I bagged up this pick; I need about two kilos of fruit for a decent batch of wine, maybe one more pick of the same size.

Next, the fruit is thawed out and the bulk ferment tub was sterilized.

Two kilos (about) of mulberries and five litres of water with one and a half kilos of raw sugar stirred in were added to the tub, along with a sachet of wine yeast, 300ml of fruit juice ( raw blueberries in this case) and some yeast nutrient. An airlock was added to the tub and the long wait begins.

You can see the mix of mulberries and blueberries in the must

The fruit was stirred daily with a sterile spoon. The ferment started within a few days. It fizzed and bubbled when stirred.

I love the pink froth when it starts to ferment.

After about four days, the bubbles started rising from the airlock and it is time to remove the fruit must from the wine. I carefully scooped out the fruit with a slotted spoon, then poured the new wine through a sieve into a jug. The new wine was poured into a demijohn and an airlock fitted to complete the ferment process.

Second ferment begins

After a total of about two weeks, I siphoned off the liquid bit (the wine) and bottled it in a new demijohn with an airlock attached. I set it to age for a month or so to clear the sediment from the wine and let the flavour develop.

Lastly, I bottled the wine into sterile bottles and stored it to drink and share with friends over the next few months. I bottled 12 bottles from 2 demijohns of wine. I refilled the demijohns from the fermenter and put another batch on to ferment. In total I should get 36 bottles of mulberry wine from this year’s harvest (as well as a heap of baked goods, syrup and cordial); that tree deserves all the washing water I can throw under it.

Mulberry syrup

The mulberry tree is still giving us a bountiful harvest, and supplying the chooks, ducks, guinea fowl and various wild birds and possums with enormous amounts of food. I pick an ice cream container (the 4 litre size) every day, and knock off a lot of ripe fruit in the process. Nothing goes to waste in nature; the wild birds fly in for a feed at various times of the day, they knock fruit off onto the ground in the process of eating. The chooks and ducks camp out under the tree in the shade and eat the fruit that drops from the birds, the wind and me picking fruit. No fruit sits on the ground to rot. My harvest so far has led to mulberry cake (a basic yoghurt cake with mulberries added), mulberry pie, the first batch of mulberry wine, a lot of smoothies and fresh fruit snacks and now I am making mulberry syrup. The syrup will be stored in the fridge to use as a topping for waffles, ice cream and to use in milkshakes (and other as yet unthought of things). I think I will make a batch to freeze too (for later in the year).

The formula for making syrup is fairly easy to remember; make your fruit juice, then add sugar to it in a ratio of 1:1, cook it down to get the right consistency and you have a great syrup. Of course you can jazz things up a bit by adding spices and herbs, or a dash of a good vinegar to bring out the fruit flavours, but the basic syrup is just juice, sugar and water cooked down into a sauce.

To make the juice; I filled a pot with mulberries, 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water and put the pot on a low heat to start the berries breaking down. The juice starts to run out fairly soon, and when the berries are heated through, I turned the heat off. The sugar starts the process of drawing the juice out of the fruit (osmosis) and the heat weakens the walls of the berries so that they are easier to juice.

The entire pot is blended up into a pulp in the blender and the juice drained out using a sieve. Then I measure the juice yield in my handy jug.

Straining juice through a sieve

The juice and an equal amount of sugar are added to the pot and the beautiful purple potion is bought to a simmer for about five minutes. You could simmer for longer to get a thicker syrup, but I like the runny effect.

Simmering away. I had 4.5 cups of juice from a full pot of mulberries

Bottle into sterilized jars or bottles and seal straight away. Once it is cool, the syrup can be stored in a cool, dark cupboard, in the freezer (for a longer shelf life) or in the fridge. Once a bottle is open, it should be stored in the fridge.

Two bottles and a small container of syrup for this batch
The syrup is ready when it coats a spoon; just thick enough to be a syrup rather than a liquid

I have plans for using this syrup to flavour a batch of kombucha, and to make a Lebanese night-time drink called Sharab el toot.

I am loving the harvest of fresh food at the moment, this is what makes life feel abundant and rich; the ability to eat from the garden.

Making kunnu aya or Tigernut milk

I discovered a new staple crop!!! It’s amazing how many plants we eat as a species, and how many plants we don’t know we can eat as individuals. I had only heard one reference to tigernuts in my life before (that I can remember); an old Woody Allen movie I watched as a child, where he asks for tiger milk for breakfast on being woken from cryogenic slumber in the distant future. I remember being puzzled at why anyone would risk milking tigers when goats are so easy to find. I dreamed of this scene one night a week ago (don’t ask me why, my mind is an enduring and deepening mystery to me) and I decided to google tiger milk. What I found has sent me on a whole journey of discovery.

Tigernuts are closely related to what I have always known as yellow nutgrass. I have spent years trying to get rid of this plant from various gardens, only to now discover that their relatives taste great and crop hugely. I have planted some seed in pots in the garden to see if I can grow them in captivity.

My first experiment with tigernuts is to make kunnu aya (a traditional nigerian drink) or tigernut milk. Woolworths sells tigernuts, so I bought a small packet to play with. I put a cup of tigernuts to soak overnight, then rinsed them off.

I put the tigernuts and some dates into the blender with just enough water to cover them. I then blended the lot until it was soupy.

I strained it through a nut bag into a jug, then I returned the pulp to the blender with a bit more water and blended it all again. The second lot of milk was not as rich and creamy as the first, but it did boost the yield a lot.

The resulting milk is smooth, creamy and refreshing. The flavour is slightly nutty and a little coconut like. I do love it as a drink. The left over pulp was spread out on a baking tray in a low oven and dried to make tigernut flour.

This little tuber has real potential as a crop here at the humpy. I hope my plants grow and produce in their pots, so I can process my own kunnu aya from tigernuts I grew. The flour is useful as a gluten free option in baking and as a thickening agent. The nuts can be ground as a base for vegan cheeses and creams (in place of cashews) and they can even be boiled and served as a vegetable or added to soups, casseroles and stews. What a useful little plant.

Sort of gardening- growing potatoes

The potatoes are starting to come up! I have one peeking it’s head above the mulch.

I have been dragging triple used hay up to the potato patch for a month in an attempt to tidy up the sheep feeding area before fire season (not very successfully) and watching every day to see when the potatoes would pop up… and now one has.

The potatoes I planted in the yard garden have been up for ages and have just been mulched for a third time (and need more already). These potatoes get more water than the ones in the patch, and I think that has made a huge difference.

We will see if this experiment is a success.

Spring flowers at the humpy

Lately, I have been forced to slow down and look at the ground more (to avoid falling over a lot), that has led to noticing a lot more of the small and unnoticed flowers that grow here. I don’t have any idea whether most of these are native plants or not, I don’t know what they are called at all, but they are beautiful. I thought I would share the beauty with you. If you know the names of any of these little beauties, leave a comment.

And a few from my garden (I know what these ones are).

In some ways, I am grateful for my dizzy spells; they have let me slow down and really see all the beauty that surrounds us again. On the other hand, it will be wonderful to be able to move around fast without falling over again too.

Planting potatoes – sort of gardening

It is now the full moon in August, which is my signal from the planet to plant potatoes. Since the fires six months ago I have lost a lot of my incentive to garden, but I am feeling the Springtime urge to get my hands dirty again. I have been maintaining the tiny patch of potted green in our front yard for a few months and it is planted out to the full extent of possibility, so potatoes will not fit.

Since the fire, (a lot of sentences start with that phrase now) I have become very aware of flammable material close to the humpy and gardens need a lot of flammable material to be fertile. To answer the conflicting urges to be fire safe and to grow some food, I decided to start planting staple crops out on the edge of the fire break in a little fenced off area with it’s own water supply (to be wet down in the event of a fire coming close). The fenced off area is yet to happen, but potato planting time is here, so I just ignored the lack of a fence and planted.

This year, I am trying the Ruth Stout method (sort of) and planting in hay mulch. As I am incapable of following any sort of instructions without modification (oppositional child here), I used the hay cleaned out of the animal pens to plant into.

The hay for planting is well traveled; it starts life here at the humpy as sheep fodder, we keep a round bale in the sheep night pen for midnight snacking purposes (which is why the vet says our sheep are heart attack risks). Once the sheep have eaten the bits of it they like, and pooped and peed into the other bits on the ground, the hay is raked up and used as bedding for rabbits, chooks, geese and the sheep. Once it is raked out of the pens (every two weeks or so), it is piled up to be used as mulch. This hay is now damp (with spilled water pots and pee) and filled with a variety of fertility boosting poops. It is also starting to break down into compost.

A random potato planting.

I began the potato planting with a little row of eight tubers in the designated area for planting staple crops; near our new cardboard/mulch hole. More potatoes will join these ones in a mulched field around the compost hole. My partner is going to move one of the fire fighting tank units up to this patch so that the hole and the mulched garden can be wet down really well when a fire threatens.

Yes, it looks like a dump.

The compost hole is huge; at least five metres across and about two metres deep. The purpose of this hole is to hold (and compost) any materials that are waste from the humpy, but will break down into nutrient rich compost (eventually). In there are broken furniture, cardboard, floor sweepings, paper (from cage cleaning, so covered in poop), natural fibre clothes, old or damaged fleece, hair clippings, etc. All the things we used to dump in the chook pen to be turned into compost are now thrown into the hole. The idea is that eventually (in a few years time) we will have a huge ‘pot’ of compost to plant fruit trees into. I don’t know if this will work, but I am willing to give it a go.

#coronavirus- Re-imagining the front yard

The front yard has gone wild, since the fires went out and the rain began the green has threatened to take over the humpy. There are weeds everywhere and I have been very slack about pulling them out. It has become a jungle and it looks so messy. I decided that now is a great time to begin the tidy-up cycle (again).

The weeds need to go; a huge job in itself (as you can see in the photo). Also the pots and things laying about need to be cleaned away to make way for more productive areas.

The Funeral Forest pots (that’s what we call the collection of large pots with fruiting plants that contain the ashes of various family members) are scattered randomly around the area, leaving no space for living in.

The fence around the hugelkultur bed serves no purpose now (other than preventing me from working on the bed easily), and I plan to remove the side facing the front yard.

I would like to put a small table and some chairs out the front so I can sit and admire the results when I am done. I will see if I can fit something in.

The progress is slow on this project; I am only putting in a half hour of work at a time. Suddenly , the need to finish a project is gone. I am just enjoying the process and when I have had enough for the time being, I leave it. This is (sort of) how I have always been (and this is why the yard turns into a jungle on a regular basis), but the current situation has bought me back to my true self; easily distracted and pleasure driven.

That big mass of aloe is actually in a pot. It took the trolley and a crow bar to move it.

The Hugelkultur bed looks so much larger with the front fence and the big pot of aloe removed. I piled all the weeds up on the bed to become soil food. There are seeds on a lot of the weeds, but I will cover the lot with cardboard when it collapses a bit and put compost or soil over it; that should slow down the weeds until the plants I choose can get their roots into the soil.

The wooden shelves I moved from beside the front gate to the tank will look nice covered with plants in terracotta pots (I think). I am just waiting for a chance to pick up more cuttings and some larger pots.

The Funeral Forest of pots that were scattered around randomly… are still scattered around. I did try to group them a bit more artistically though. I love to visit with all the animals who have passed on and remember the joy they have given me.

I managed to find a desk I am no longer using and some camping chairs. For the moment that will give me somewhere to sit. I am on the lookout for a small outdoor setting though (second hand of course).

Now I can properly appreciate my wall art. A very talented friend made these wall panels for me as gifts. I love the way they brighten up the entrance to the humpy and I plan to cover the whole wall with them (if I can).

There is still a fair way to go on this project; I have a patch of weeds behind the tank, and plants to be potted and planted out, but I am happy to be pottering around outside again and thinking about the future.

The herb beds…er…logs and a new bed

Note: you may notice that the first part of this post was made in the days when we had rain. The second part is in the current situation of deep drought. This is because I got distracted by other pursuits and didn’t get to finish the post. Because I hate to waste anything, I thought I would just update the post with some photos of the current state of the area.

Read on…

Living in the bush as we do, wood is easy to come by, we use it for everything; burning as fuel, structural building material, even in the garden. I have several hollow logs cut in half placed around one of the water tanks that were always intended to become herb beds. Unfortunately I sort of lost interest in the project for a year or two and they have sat there, looking messy ever since. I guess it is time to tackle that problem opportunity.

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First of all the weeds have to go. I need to clear around the tank in general in fact. As I was staring at the mess, wishing there were an easier way, inspiration struck. Why don’t I just lay cardboard over the weeds behind the hollow logs and cover it all with gravel? It would make it look neat and reduce the fire hazard as well. That will have to wait until I can go and get some gravel.

The hollow logs were easy to fix. I dug out the old soil and mixed it with pig poop and lime, then shoveled it back in. Once the beds have settled down and composted a bit more I will plant some herbs in there, I will probably have to fence them off too, because everything wants to eat anything newly planted.

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All inspired by this bit of progress, I decided to build a new Hugelkultur bed in the front yard. This area used to have a trellis made from a couple of bed bases tied to poles and some tires planted with choko vines, unfortunately the ducks managed to break into the choko vine covers and ate the lot. So the whole mess sat, doing nothing for a year or so; the chooks dug the soil out of the tires, the trellis fell down and the grass grew over the lot. Time to jazz it up a bit.

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First I needed to put the trellis back up. A couple of pieces of scrap metal about 1.5m long and a star picket later I had a trellis again, of course the zip ties helped too (what did we do before zip ties?). Sometimes I am so thankful we are too lazy to take stuff to the dump.

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Now for the garden bed. Time to collect wood and bury it in pig poop…fun.

I gathered branches and stray bits of wood from all around the humpy for a couple of hours. Thanks to my trusty wheel barrow I can collect quite a large amount in a trip. Then I filled the gaps in between with partially composted pig poop from the conveniently placed pile up the hill (thanks Lucille), remembering to sprinkle the whole lot with lime periodically (which helps reduce the smell and adjusts the pH from acid back down towards neutral).

This new bed is going to take a while to settle down into a rich, fertile growing area so I need to gather plenty of mulch to cover over the pig poop and reduce the smell. Mulch also gives a bed that finished look, whether it is finished or not.

Now for the present day photos…

Nothing really likes to grow in the log bed, but the zucchini really go well in the compost in the bed in front of the log. Everything is in pots at the moment because it is easier to water everything with our second use water.
The bush beans seem to love growing in the log on this side.
We moved the aquaculture set up to the shaded area near the humpy so that A****e wouldn’t cook. The pots with herbs and veges are our way of keeping a bit of green about.
The new Hugelkultur be became a compost heap that was over a metre high. It has broken down really well and is ready for seedlings as soon as we get some rain. The tree in the middle of it is an Elder, I hope to get berries from it one day.

Yes, our humpy is a place of half-assed half-finished projects, but we have a lot of fun doing it and what else is life for, if not to follow your joy? We are messy people, you won’t find much order here, what you will find is interest and new ideas (sometimes the same new idea that has been long forgotten and then suddenly rediscovered). I do love my life!!

Making vege burgers from Madagascar beans

Madagascar bean, growing like a weed.

The Madagascar bean plants have continued to grow and now it is Spring again, they have decided to bear a huge crop of beans (even though it is so very dry). I thought I would share a recipe for using the dried beans in vege burgers as a way of using my stash of last years crop in preparation for harvesting a new batch.

The new harvest begins.

I didn’t use a particular recipe to make my burgers, just added things I had on hand, but I did manage to find a similar recipe here.

There is a mix of Madagascar beans and bush beans in this batch.

First; soak a cup of dried beans in hot water for a few hours (or overnight).

Then boil the beans for about two hours (or until they can be squashed to mush with a fork).

Blend the beans together with; 1 cup of grated carrot/raw beetroot, 1 onion, 1 cup red lentils (these can be boiled with the beans if they are dried), 1/2 cup boiled sweet potato, 1 chia egg (1 tspn chia seed in 1 tblespn hot water), garlic, soy sauce, salt and pepper.

Carrots, onion, garlic, capsicum (and a sneaky chilli)
Sweet potato and a chia egg or two.

Put the whole mess in a bowl and mix in bread crumbs or oat bran until you can form patties that stick together.

Shallow fry the patties and serve with vegetables or as a burger. Yum.

Yum

They can also be frozen before cooking to have a quick, easy meal ready to cook.

Planting chokos…again

I plant chokos every few years here; not because they are biennial but because the geese and chooks eat them regularly and they never seem to get ahead of the predators.

Choko (or chayote) is a vine crop that is known to be very hardy and bears in HUGE quantities. I love the flavour, although not everyone does. In the past I have used them to make pickles, steamed with other vegetables and to bulk up sauces and pies (apple pie can be made with just one apple and lots of chokos. They take on the flavour of any fruit or vegetable they are cooked with so the possibilities are endless. They are so useful in the kitchen that we are trying to grow them again. They can also be used as animal food, and so can the leaves.

We planted them in a big pot this time, straight into a mix of compost from the chook pen (made up of cardboard, food scraps and chook poop) and sand. The chokos we planted are three chokos in a bag that were left to fend for themselves at the back of the cupboard. They developed long runners to push out of the bag and try to find water or soil, these runners may sprout leaves and grow, or we may have to wait until a bigger sprout pushes up from the base. The whole choko is buried in a shallow trench in the pot with minimal cover over the sprouting end.

Adding a smallish plastic container to the bottom of the pot gives the plant a water reservoir for dry times.
A mix of compost and sand will feed and support the new plant.
These chokos really want to live.
Planted and ready to grow.

It is easy to get discouraged by the amount of plants our animals eat, but we keep trying.